An astonishing number of women over the age of 40 are affected by this type of cancer.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 15, 2022. It has since been updated.
Being a woman over the age of 40 is difficult, especially when you have to deal with menopause. It certainly doesn’t help that you must also be aware of major health issues like cancer.
One of the common kinds of cancer that affect more than 95% of women who are past the age of 40 is endometrial cancer, otherwise known as uterine cancer.
When a woman is menstruating, there are hormones that cause changes in the special tissue lining the uterine wall called the endometrium. In the early part of her menstrual cycle, the ovaries produce estrogen. This hormone causes the endometrium to thicken so that it can nourish an embryo if the woman gets pregnant. If she isn’t pregnant, then the hormone is not produced as much. Soon after the inner lining of the uterus has shed, the endometrial lining follows and becomes part of the menstrual flow. This cycle repeats until menopause.
Uterine cancer grows very slowly so it is easier to catch and control early if you go for regular checkups. In the U.S., according to the estimation from the American Cancer Society, 63,230 new cases of uterine cancer will be reported in 2018.
In endometrial cancer, cancerous cells grow in the endometrium and if it isn’t caught in time or if it is left untreated, there are high chances of it spreading to the bladder, rectum or even the reproductive organs like the vagina, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. In some cases, it can even spread to other distant organs. Postmenopausal women have a higher risk of contracting this cancer if:
1. Their first menstrual cycle came early
2. They are obese
3. They have diabetes or high blood pressure
4. They have no children or only a few of them
5. They have a genetic history of endometrial, colorectal or breast cancer
6. They have a history of infertility, irregular periods or abnormal cells in the endometrium
7. They went through menopause late
8. They have had hormone therapy for breast cancer
In order to catch it early so that treatment will be easier to follow through with, it’s essential to look out for these signs.
We all think we bleed too much before menopause or don’t bleed after menopause. But it’s important to note that if you have unusually heavy and irregular periods during your menstrual cycle or bleeding between your periods, it could point at endometrial cancer. If after you go through menopause, you start bleeding, it’s a sign to go to your doctor and have it checked out. If you are on Hormone Replacement Therapy, then the bleeding is possible but it’s always better to go to a doctor to run diagnostics and make sure it isn’t cancer.
If you start noticing that your discharge is a little blood-tinged, too watery, too thick, brownish or emanates a bad smell, then you need to go to your doctor immediately to get yourself checked. The causes of it could be non-cancerous as well but it is always better to be safe than sorry. Even if you have gone through menopause, it’s important to have a doctor confirm if you have or don’t have it. Non-bloody vaginal discharge could also be a sign of it since, in about 10% of cases of diagnosed endometrial cancer, the discharge has had no blood. Any abnormal discharge is a warning sign.
There are healthy and unhealthy ways of losing weight. When you exercise, you expect that the weight loss will happen but if you have endometrial cancer, your weight loss will come out of nowhere. While it may seem like an isolated occurrence, if you feel any of the other symptoms at the same time as your weight loss, it is essential to have it immediately diagnosed. Since this is a symptom that occurs in the later stages, it could point towards cancer.
When you pee, there should be a steady stream with absolutely no pain. The urine flows smoothly but if you experience extreme pain and discomfort when you’re passing urine, then you need to have it checked as painful urination is a sign of endometrial cancer. Even if you are unable to go to the toilet to pee because there is no urge, that could be a sign as well.
A major sign of the cancer is excruciating pain in the pelvic region. This occurs in the later part of the cancer development and is painful due to the growth of cells on the inner lining. Due to this, intercourse is also very painful and distressing. This can also be seen if, during an examination, you are seen to have an enlarged uterus. In some cases and if untreated early on, due to the cancer being spread in the pelvis, it moves onto different organs, especially your lower abdomen, back, and legs. This is the latest stage and it is critical to have yourself diagnosed. Go to a doctor immediately if you start to feel these symptoms.
Cancer is a difficult health issue to deal with and is painful if not caught early. It can cause major physical, emotional and mental trauma if it is untreated and can affect not just you but your loved ones. No matter how healthy you keep yourself, there are other factors like genetics, environment, and lifestyle that can cause cancerous cells to develop in your body. Most small signs are ignored under the impression that they are individual problems that will go away on its own but we fail to realize that ignoring those small health issues could come back later as one large one that we can't get rid of or is hard to get rid of. Don't ignore the signs, no matter how small. The older you get, the harder it is to beat diseases like cancer. Take preventive measures and live life the way you were meant to live - healthy and freely.